Windstar’s Around Iceland cruise sets off on a complete circumnavigation of one of the most diverse and dramatic island nations on earth. It is the perfect itinerary to immerse yourself in local culture, explore natural wonders, and relish in the Viking history of Northern Europe.
You’ll dance along the south rim of the Arctic Circle, crossing it only briefly as you round the north part of Iceland. You’ll set foot in tiny villages dating back to the 8th century, you’ll hear the sagas of the original Viking settlers, and you’ll marvel at the natural wonders that each port offers. All while on the lookout for humpback whales and Atlantic puffins.
Once ashore you’ll have the chance to meet the Icelandic horse, hike to waterfalls, soak in thermal baths, take a culinary adventure, see black sand beaches, hike on the Berserkjahraun lava field and watch wildlife.
This is an itinerary of exploration appealing to nature lovers, history buffs, and anyone who loves to feel small among the greatness of natural wonders. Here are some of the highlights.
Your Iceland adventure starts in the capital city of Reykjavik. The city was founded in 871 AD by a pair of Viking settlers, Ingolfur Arnason and Halleveig Frodadottir, who referred to it as the ‘Smoky Bay’ due to the volcanic vents creating a smoky illusion from the water. A city that was once a rugged Viking settlement, Reykjavik has charged into the 21st century with its complete adoption of geothermal energy. It is now known as the “Smokeless City.”
Despite being the smallest capital city in the world, the city is comprised of six large districts that each feature a collection of attractions and places of interest.
From port, the city center is only a 10-minute walk away from fascinating sites like Old Reykjavik, the Viking Saga Museum, the Maritime Museum, The Harpa, the National Museum of Reykjavik, and Whales of Iceland.
Be sure to take some time to pop into a local café or bar before embarking on the ship. You’ll find unique local specials such as fermented shark, fish soup, Icelandic breads, and a local liquor called Brennivin.
Located only a few miles from the south coast of Iceland, Heimaey is like a different world lost long ago in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. The volcanoes that formed Heimaey Island have come close to destroying it on several occasions. The most famous eruption in modern times happened in January 1973. It was caused by a fissure that burst open allowing the emergence of Eldfell. This event prompted immediate evacuation of the island.
Heimaey Island is known for its dramatic landscapes, so you’ll want to join one of the island tours that will get you up close to the lava flows of the Eldfell Volcano, visits a puffin viewing area, and also shows you an example of a traditional Icelandic earth hut.
The port is a 10-minute walk to the city center, where you’ll find points of interest like The Aquarium & Museum of Natural History, and the Sagnheimar Folk Museum. There are also several shops, cafes, and local restaurants to enjoy. You can also take a short walk to the beautiful black Heimaey stave church, Stafkirkjan. Along the way, be sure to enjoy the small lava field trails.
This beautiful fjord stretches for 11 miles along dramatic volcanic scenery before ending at what has been called the most picturesque town in Iceland, Seydisfjordur. Offering a stunning natural setting to visitors, the town is also home to a thriving art scene and some of the friendliest people in the world.
Seydisfjordur started as a trading center for foreign merchants in 1848 but became wealthy due to its abundance of herring. It grew into the largest and most prosperous town in East Iceland. Original settlements and graves have been dated back to the 8th century showing that the foreign merchants weren’t the first to benefit from the fjord’s riches.
The town is an excellent hub for nature lovers, offering up several marked hiking trails that will take you to discover waterfalls and scenic vistas. The port is only a 10-minute walk to the city center, where you can wander the streets and admire the colorful buildings, painted streets and famous Blue Church with the rainbow street.
Additionally, you’ll see that there are many options for day excursions to discover highlights around East Iceland. These include learning about Eider Ducks, Skalanes Nature Reserve, hiking to Hengifoss, along with a few other touring options.
The city of Akureyri is the second largest urban area in Iceland and is referred to as the ‘Capital of the North’. The city is at the head of the Eyjafjordur, just over 37 miles long. It is one of the longest fjords in the country. Additionally, Akureyri is only 62 miles from the Arctic Circle. This makes it the foremost hub for North Iceland exploration.
There are a myriad of adventures, tours, and activities to be had during your time in port. This includes whale watching in the self-proclaimed whale capital of Iceland, that gets you the chance for an up-close look at humpback whales that live and migrate through the area.
Additionally, you can enjoy excursions to meet Icelandic horses and ride through the countryside, visit Myvatn Nature Baths, take a scenic flight over the Diamond Circle, and see the Jewels of the North – a complete overview of the best sights in the area.
Isafjordur is the largest town in the Westfjords Peninsula with approximately 2,600 inhabitants. Set at the end of the Skutulsfjordur, the town is built on a sand spit and has the famous Troll’s Throne looming overhead, which is a popular spot for hikers to explore.
The town was first established as a settlement in the 9th century and by the 19th century had embraced the fast-growing saltfish industry which significantly contributed to the boom of the town. The Icelandic shrimp industry was also started here, giving way to the Golden Days that carried the town into the early 20th century. Today, tourism is thriving in the town and it’s now a major cruise ship destination in Iceland. It also serves as a base for visitors to explore the rest of the Westfjords region.
Excursions can take you further afield to explore the village of Hesteyri, the Osvor Museum, Dynjandi Waterfall, kayaking on the fjord, Sudavik village, the Arctic Fox Centre, Bolafjall Mountain, take an ATV tour along the fjords edge, or a RIB boat tour for some whale watching.
Located on the Breidafjordur near the midpoint of the northern coast of the Snaefellsness Peninsula sits the growing community of Grundarfjordur. The town is characterized by its unique climate and beautiful setting. The town is used as a base to explore the Beserkjahraun lava field and Snaefellsjokull, the mountain made famous by Jules Verne.
Kirkjufell and the Kirkjufellsfoss are probably more famous than the town itself since Kirkjufell is one of the most beautiful mountains in Iceland, a feature that has been front and center of various social media platforms over the years. There is a hike that goes to the base of Kirkjufell to see the waterfalls, but if you want to go further a guide is highly recommended.
Excursions can take you deeper with a journey to the center of the earth that features cave exploration on the Snaefellsjokull Glacier, a hiking trip in the Beserkjahraun lava field (which roughly translates to “mad-man lava field”), a journey to walk on top of the Snaefellsjokull Glacier, a Viking sushi boat tour, bird watching in search of puffins, and a comprehensive overview tour of the Wonders of the West.
Congratulations! You’ve made a successful and immersive circumnavigation of Iceland, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Before you head home, consider using your free time to explore more of Iceland by booking the Krysuvik and Blue Lagoon excursion. You’ll enjoy the geological wonders of the Reykjanes Peninsula before taking in a thermal soak in the vibrant blue waters of the most popular thermal bath in Iceland.
Alternatively, if you didn’t have time to explore downtown Reykjavik before you embarked, consider a downtown walking tour or hopping on the City Sightseeing bus to learn more about the fascinating history of the city.
About the Author: Lina Stock is an award-winning photographer and writer at DivergentTravelers.com. She has been exploring the world since 2001 and has traveled to more than 100 countries and all 7 continents.